This story is another alarming and sad reminder that everyone, regardless of their romantic orientation, needs to be extremely careful about how they use dating apps and who they choose to meet.

Three Texas men have been sentenced to prison for using a dating app to lure gay men to a location where they could be assaulted and robbed.

According to a report from the Department of Justice, 28-year-old Michael Atkinson has been sentenced to 11 years, while 24-year-old Daryl Henry was sentenced to 20 years and 21-year-old Pablo Ceniceros-Deleon was sentenced to 22 years.

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The three pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit hate crimes, kidnapping, carjacking, and use of a firearm to commit criminal violence.

The three used an app called Grindr to lure five men to an apartment in Dallas, then held them at gunpoint and force them to withdraw money from ATMs. The men were assaulted and held in small rooms or closets, and one victim was even sexually assaulted. All were taunted with gay slurs, and it's believed that they were targeted because they were gay.

“These three men participated in and committed acts of violence against innocent victims because they believed the victims were gay men,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This type of bias-motivated violence runs contrary to our values and violates our federal civil rights laws. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division will aggressively investigate and prosecute those who target members of the LGBTQI community.”

“These defendants brutalized multiple victims, singling them out due to their sexual orientation. We cannot allow this sort of violence to fester unchecked,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah for the Northern District of Texas. “The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting hate crimes. In the meantime, we urge dating app users to remain vigilant. Unfortunately, predators often lurk online.”

“One of the FBI’s top priorities is to defend the civil rights of the communities we serve. We actively work with our law enforcement partners to investigate hate crimes and achieve justice for the victims impacted by these violent crimes,” said Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI Dallas Field Office. “The victims in this case were specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation. The FBI wants to reassure the public that we will pursue individuals who commit violent hate acts against any member of our community.”

A fourth man, Daniel Jenkins, is set to be sentenced in October after pleading guilty to committing a hate crime, conspiracy, kidnapping, car jacking, and using a gun to commit a violent crime. He faces a maximum of 26 years in prison.

Again, please be careful if you're using any sort of dating app or social media platform to meet people. You could easily be the target of someone who wants to steal from you or worse.

If you're going to meet someone, meet in a public place that's well-lit and where there are plenty of people. Consider taking one or more friends, or at least designate a friend to call or text and let them know you're safe. If that friend doesn't hear from you by a certain time, they should be able to contact police with information about where you were going and who you were meeting.

Be safe out there.

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